IN OUR LAST EDITION we discussed the few changes to the Rules that were introduced from 1 January 2023.

The 2 major changes, that may happen when we are playing a round of golf, deal with the procedure when dropping Back-on-the-Line (must drop on the line and ball may roll one club-length in any direction) and when a ball may be embedded right at the bottom of the lip of a bunker (may now take the nearest point as reference point, and not necessarily right behind the ball – as is the case in all other situations when ball is embedded in the general area).

Unplayable Ball (Rule 19)

We are now going back to discuss the basic Relief rules again and in this edition we look at Rule 19 – what do I do when I get to my ball and I cannot play it or I do not want to play it as it may be lying in a bush or right up against a tree trunk?


The game of Golf is essentially a game where you tee off at a hole and, with a series of shots proceed to the green and putt out.

However, there are many obstacles on a course and, combining it with a wayward shot, one may have difficulty to navigate your ball to the green. In addition to the other relief rules for as examples immovable obstructions or penalty areas, Rule 19 deals with situations where you reach your ball and you just cannot play it where it is lying on the course!

The basic principle then is that the player may, anywhere on the course, except when the ball is in a penalty area, decide to treat the ball as unplayable and take penalty relief – otherwise the player will not be able to finish the hole. You often get balls that are unplayable because it is lying deep in a bush or against a tree trunk or it may be lying next to an Out of Bounds wall and you have no swing whatsoever.


The player may then decide that the best option will be not to try and take a swipe at the ball, but to declare it unplayable and for a penalty of one stroke, use any of the following 3 options (the ABC method) available:


Play the previous stroke Again. This is done by taking Stroke and Distance relief by taking a ball, dropping it at the spot where the previous stroke (the one that put the ball in the bush) was made and then hitting it. You thus replay the previous shot from the same previous spot (sounds like a mulligan!, but with a penalty stroke).


You can elect to drop a ball Back-on-the-Line. This is done by dropping a ball behind the spot where the unplayable ball lies, keeping that spot between the hole (flagstick) and the spot where the ball is dropped. According to the 2023 amendments, you drop the ball on the line and this creates a one club-length circle relief area that your ball must stay inside. This point that you select to drop when going back on the line, may be on any area of the course, for example another teeing location, general area, bunker or even inside a (dry) penalty area.


You can drop in a lateral relief area which is 2 Club lengths in size. You thus measure 2 club-lengths from the unplayable ball and then drop the original or another ball in this relief area.


A player decides that their ball in a bush is unplayable. The player has three options, in each case adding one penalty stroke. The player may:

Take stroke-and-distance relief by playing a ball from a relief area based on where the previous stroke was made. (A)

Take back-on-the-line relief by dropping a ball behind the spot of the original ball, keeping the spot of the original ball between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped. (B)

Take lateral relief. The reference point for taking relief is the spot of the original ball and a ball must be dropped in and played from the two club-length relief area, which is no nearer the hole than the reference point. (C)

It will be to the advantage of a player to understand the 3 options available (A B C) as the player may select the option which best suits the next shot. You thus choose the best option to enable you to proceed by for example getting a clear shot at the green or getting back on the fairway.


Although you may not select the unplayable options when your ball is in a penalty area (the penalty area options of Rule 17 will be your only options), there is a special extra option available when your ball is in a bunker. You can take the normal options (Stroke and Distance, Lateral relief or Back-on-the-Line) – but for the last 2 options the ball must be dropped in the same bunker.

We unfortunately often find that some players just struggle to get out of a bunker and when playing a Monthly Medal round, this can ruin your score and enjoyment! To help you to get out of the bunker, you can since 2019 declare your ball unplayable in the bunker (although it may be lying perfectly) and then take Back-on-the-Line relief outside the bunker – and paying for it with a 2-shot penalty.

I do not know how often it is used during social play or competitions, but it does give a player an OUT when unable to get a ball out of a bunker.


Sometimes it is better to use Rule 19 and declare a ball unplayable and drop it in a better position, than to try and hack it out from a bush and using a few strokes in the process. Use the Rules to your advantage – even if you have to pay a penalty shot for the relief.

A player decides that their ball in a bunker is unplayable. The player has four options:

For one penalty stroke, the player may take stroke-and-distance relief. (A)
For one penalty stroke, the player may take back-on-the-line relief in the bunker. (B)
For one penalty stroke, the player may take lateral relief in the bunker. (C)
For a total of two penalty strokes, the player may take back-on-the-line relief outside the bunker.